West End's Village restaurant puts Pride in dining

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      When chef Curtis Demyon’s parents came out to visit him from his hometown of Saskatoon recently, they planned on having brunch at Village, the restaurant he runs at 1143 Davie Street. Once a month, the midmorning meal there transforms into something distinctly West End: alongside classic eggs Benedict and other light dishes, Queen Eggs and Ham serves up a full-on drag show.

      There was just one problem facing Demyon’s Prairie folks: they couldn’t get near the place.

      “The first one we had was lined up down to Shoppers [Drug Mart],” Demyon says in a phone interview. “My parents couldn’t really get in because it was so busy. They walked by around front, then they came in the back and said they had to go eat somewhere else because they couldn’t get a table.

      “My parents are very open and outgoing,” he adds. “I’m pretty sure my dad would have joined in the festivities at Queen Eggs and Ham.”

      Peach Cobblah is one of the performers at the event, which runs on the third Sunday of every month. Twenty percent of proceeds go toward A Loving Spoonful, the volunteer-driven society that provides free, healthy meals to men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS in Greater Vancouver.

      Host to the popular Queen Eggs and Ham brunch drag show, Village is also one of few restaurants on Davie Street serving up local fare.
      Village Vancouver

      The drag brunch is just one way Village is reaching out to people it serves and the neighbourhood in which it operates.

      “We want to do as many charitable things for the community as we can; it’s about supporting your local community,” says Demyon, who has lived and worked in the West End for many years. “It’s not just about the business but about everyone else around us.”

      A dinner drag show may occur; Village has also hosted evening events with the Vancouver Men’s Choir.

      For Pride weekend, Village plans to celebrate. Aside from its regular brunch service, the restaurant will turn into a club on Friday and Saturday nights with a special licence that will allow it to pull most of the tables to make room for a dance floor. There will be DJs and body-painting.

      “It’s definitely one of the best weekends of the year,” Demyon says. “We’ll have that party atmosphere going on.”

      The dining spot—which opened last year as Lips (the chef’s nickname), then became Village Bistro before rebranding recently as the single-monikered spot—aims to be a destination, Demyon explains. It’s arguably the classiest room on Davie Street, which is home to all sorts of ethnic restaurants but until recently didn’t have anything focused on local fare.

      Village's lamb neck tartare, served with smoked tomatoes, grilled fennel, and cured egg yolk. 
      Village Vancouver

      The teeniest patch of faux lawn fronts the restaurant, which has sliding glass doors that bring in the sunshine and outdoors. Inside, the space is warm, with dark wood floors, thick rope hung vertically along some walls, and a palette of browns and greys.

      Demyon wanted to create a place that’s welcoming and cozy yet elegant, centred on a “technique-driven kitchen with bold regional flavours”. Examples? How about peppered foie gras torchon to start, with an ice-wine-and-Anjou-pear jelly, smoked-nut crumble, and toasted brioche? Or take the braised lamb neck and wild-mushroom risotto Nero with smoked carrot, scallion yogurt, and crispy shallot topped with Grana Padano.

      Demyon prioritizes B.C. ingredients. Think barbecued pork sirloin from the Fraser Valley served with roasted-garlic potato, corn-and-green-bean sauté, and watermelon gratin; grilled Pacific salmon with fennel, bacon lardon, spätzle, charred romaine, pickled onion, and Dijon cream; and Haida Gwaii halibut with chorizo crumble, artichoke, asparagus, and saffron-confit potato.

      Produce from Fraser Valley farms stars in dishes like heirloom-tomato-and-arugula salad with charred onion and smoked walnut in a tarragon-Dijon vinaigrette; a quinoa-and-hemp-hearts bowl with citrus-compressed fennel, roasted baby beets, and tarragon-thyme pistou; vegetable ceviche with jicama-grapefruit salsa; and more.

      There’s an emphasis on seafood, which is all Ocean Wise. Most items are gluten-free—Demyon himself has several food sensitivities and allergies—and many are vegan. If diners want a casual night, there’s a burger with bacon and locally foraged mushrooms, but if you want to splurge, you can go for one of the few non–B.C. items and order the American wagyu strip loin ($16 per ounce, with an eight-ounce minimum).

      Village's foraged mushroom and Swiss burger, crafted with a house-made cheddar cheese sauce and Dijon mustard aioli.
      Village Vancouver

      After moving to Vancouver in 2002, Demyon studied at the Art Institute of Vancouver (then the Dubrulle International Culinary and Hotel Institute of Canada). He went on to work at Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House before spending time at Coast and the Langara Fishing Lodge. In 2013, he took on the role of executive chef at the Fish House in Stanley Park. He ventured out on his own after that Vancouver institution closed in 2015 after 25 years.

      Demyon grew up in a family that loved food: he spent time in the kitchen and the garden with his mom and baba (Ukrainian for “grandma”) while his dad enjoyed butchering as a hobby; together, they would make their own sausages in the garage. Demyon uses his family’s recipe for perogies and links, which, like everything else on the menu, are made from scratch in-house.

      “I’d come home from school and make dinner for my family and test things out on them,” he recalls. “If it didn’t work, they’d choke it down anyway.”

      Demyon credits Steve Duyzer, general manager of the Vancouver Fish Company, as a strong influence on his culinary career, particularly on the business side of things. He also credits his best friend and executive sous-chef, Tyler Gyurkovits, as “the best support that anyone could ask for”, “the backbone of the kitchen and mastermind behind a lot of the dishes we create”.

      The kitchen he runs hardly resembles the stuff of reality TV. “I’m not really the Gordon Ramsay type: ‘If I’m not having fun, no one’s having fun,’ ” Demyon says. “I like to have fun and keep it up and chipper.”